There seems to be a misconception floating around that the customer journey starts when a customer makes a purchase.

Agree? Disagree?

Because there’s a strong argument that the customer journey begins long before a purchase is made. Where and when, exactly? Colin Shaw, CEO of Beyond Philosophy, sums it up well:

Put differently, the customer journey begins when a company, product, or service enters the customer’s atmosphere—when they get that first pang of need that prompts them to consider a solution.

Another word for it is micromoments.

There’s that trip to Mexico coming up this summer—do I need to start looking for flights?

Our dishwasher is on its last legs—maybe it’s time to start looking for a replacement?

Much of this action happens long before the actual transaction happens. A customer might read a Google Review while standing in line it the grocery store. Maybe they poke around on a self-service portal while watching the latest Netflix special. They’re trying us on for fit.

The customer journey has begun.

A proactive vs. reactive customer experience

The assumption that the journey begins at purchase time overlooks all the important information communicated during the pre-sale customer experience. This information is useful in understanding and proactively addressing the obstacles, challenges, and pain points that customers face.

There’s information there, but we have to be there to capture it. Otherwise, we’re delivering a reactive customer experience that makes it harder for customers to be successful.

Indeed, most companies at least recognize the need to be more proactive in the ways they engage with customers. One way to do so is with content. Among other things, content gives us valuable end-user data that not only helps triangulate the early stages of the customer journey, but to better understand the challenges that characterize those early micromoments. This can be marketing content, product documentation, or even self-service help content.

Even if it it might be awhile before those prospects come back around to finally reach out, ask a question, or make a purchase, it might be the proactive experience early in the customer journey that finally got that customer across the finish line.

Empathetic customer journey mapping

This, of course, takes time and effort (and it’s not always a linear process). Still, devoting time and effort to understanding where and how customers are interacting with us early in the customer journey can have a significant upside. When we know what those touchpoints are—when we understand when the customer journey actually begins—we can take our customer journey mapping deeper.

In a word, empathy. Considering things from the customer perspective. This helps to better understand what content to deliver in order to help move customers along successfully.